Friday, August 13, 2004
When John Kerry came to Carlisle
It was June 2, 1971 when Vietnam War veteran John Kerry came to Carlisle. He had been invited by the Carlisle Citizens for Peace to speak to what turned out to be an overflow crowd that had gathered in Spalding Auditorium at the Carlisle School. In those days the all-purpose auditorium on School Street was used as the school cafeteria, the gym, and a stage for band concerts, class plays and musicals, as well as the site for town meetings.
Nancy Feit, at the time a resident of East Riding Drive, had recently heard John Kerry speak at the April 24 peace march in Washington, D.C. to protest the war in Vietnam. When she returned home, she was eager to organize a war protest meeting here in Carlisle.
Carlisle in 1971 had a population of approximately 3,000. Those were the days when most women were staying at home to raise their children. Many were members of the League of Women Voters, the Middlesex County Extension Service's Homemaker Group, the Carlisle Garden Club, and the Carlisle Food Co-op. Some women were leaders of town 4-H clubs, while others served on town boards and committees.
Feit happened to be a member of the weekly food co-op, which operated out of Union Hall, and it was here she approached friends and fellow members with the idea of bringing John Kerry to speak in Carlisle at a meeting to protest the war. A group that included Bonnie Miskolczy, Pat Bensettler, Diane Belanger and me set to work organizing the event. We called ourselves "Carlisle Citizens for Peace."
Carlisle in 1971 had no local newspaper (the Carlisle Mosquito was not established until 1972) so Miskolczy came up with the idea of asking her neighbor, artist Martha Lloyd of Bingham Road, to make posters announcing the event. Once executed, these striking white on black posters, highlighting the 1971 version of the now-familiar Kerry face, were placed strategically around town. It is interesting to note that many of the posters were kept by organizers of the protest movement and only recently were recovered from the backs of closets or from behind bookshelves, and then, in some cases, framed.
Artist Lloyd, now living in upstate New York, writes: "What I remember is a packed auditorium, people sitting on the floor, a very powerful speech by Kerry with a standing ovation. [It was] about his experiences in Vietnam and his issues against the war in Vietnam..."
In a recent correspondence Nancy Feit, now living in Corona del Mar, California,she remembers what happened in 1971: "I rode the bus from Concord to Washington, D.C., to take part in the march against the Vietnam War, and listened to Joan Baez and Pete Seeger sing, and Pete said we should all go home and organize protests against the war. So I typed up a little flyer asking for help and passed them out at the food co-op. There was a young woman whose last name was Bensettler who knew Cam Kerry, John's brother, who was a Harvard student at the time. We thought getting John Kerry to speak would be just about the best possible thing.
"So she gave me Cam's dorm number and through him we contacted John Kerry and arranged for him to come to speak at the school. Nancy Penhune, who later became Carlisle's first selectman, introduced him from the stage. As I recall, over 200 people came. We advertised in the nearby towns, as well as Carlisle. We were so proud of ourselves and it was fun! I'll never forget it."
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito